WASHINGTON COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY (Washington County, Utah)
HARRISON HOUSE HOTEL
Silver Reef, Utah
LOCATIONThe hotel was on the northwest corner of Main & Central Streets. It was directly north of the Cosmopolitan Restaurant, across Center Street.
Silver Reef, Utah
HISTORYThe Harrison House Hotel was once the largest building in the mining community of Silver Reef, and was considered by some people to be the best hotel in any mining town in Utah Territory. The history of the Harrison House begins with Peter Harrison, who owned a furniture store in Pioche, Nevada. While reading The Pioche Weekly Record one day, Peter read about new silver strikes that had been made near Leeds, and since business in Pioche was beginning to quiet down, he left for the area in late 1876, arriving in December of 1876.
Soon after Peter arrived, he was operating a furniture store in town. But an idea soon popped into his mind: What if he could build a grand hotel to serve Silver Reef and its visitors? Acting on this, Peter and a few of Silver Reef's residents commenced construction of a large two-story hotel. The basement had a nice restaurant, the first floor had a furniture store, a general merchandise store operated by Siegel & Marks, and a few rooms, while the second floor solely consisted of rooms. The hotel had forty-five rooms in total. A balcony overlooking Silver Reef's business district was added to the front of the hotel. By early 1877, the Harrison House Hotel opened its doors.
The interior of the hotel was very extravagent and magnificent. The restaurant was nicely designed, and a pianist played on a regular basis. The hotel rooms had carpeted flooring, nice spring beds, fancy wallpaper, and eloquent furniture, and were well stocked with clean towels and, according to a New York Times correspondent, "every comfort a weary traveler could ask for." The entire hotel was kept clean by a Chinaman, who never failed to do his job well. The furniture store sold some of the finest furniture in town.
Because of this, the hotel earned a good reputation in town. But this good reputation didn't save it from a disastrous fire on May 30, 1879. The fire was first discovered in the basement of a restaurant located on the same block as the Harrison House Hotel, but nothing could be done to stop that initial blaze from spreading. It soon became clear that the Harrison House Hotel was in danger of being burned. The hotel was quickly evacuated. Men came with buckets of water and dumped them on the Harrison House Hotel, and wet blankets were draped on the roof in an attempt to make the building too moist to burn.
Unfortunately, the intense heat from the nearby fire caused the water from the blankets to evaporate, and efforts to save the hotel had to be aborted as the flames spread to McCormick's store, the hotel's neighbor. The fire finally spread to the hotel; the flames quickly devoured the building, and within a half hour there was nothing left of the building.
The hotel's basement avoided complete destruction by fire, but most of its wares were badly damaged and had to be replaced anyway. Peter, knowing that fires were common, had previously insured his hotel, and the insurance company covered all costs to rebuild the hotel and to replace its damaged wares. By the end of September 1879, the Harrison House had been rebuilt and operated as it had before it burned.
The hotel operated throughout most of the 1880s, even though Silver Reef was beginning to decline at that time. By 1884, only two mining companies were still operating in Silver Reef, but the hotel remained in business despite the fact that its financial outlook was declining. By 1887, only one mining company was left, and Pete Harrison was deep in debt. Finally, on January 4, 1888, he sold all of his holdings, including the hotel and his house, and left. The following is an exerpt from his bankruptcy statement:
"I, Peter Harrison of Silver Reef...am indebted to divers persons in considerable sums of money which I am at present unable to pay in full, and am desirous to convey all my property not exempt from execution by law for the benefit of my creditors."Pete went on to list all people he was indebted to, as well as to state that Louis Jacobs, a resident of Silver Reef, would be in charge of his holdings (including the hotel) and financial obligations. After Pete left, Jacobs sold all of the hotel's furniture to locals and any other interested persons. The hotel itself was demolished and its wood was sold to many people, who mostly used it to build homes in St. George. Jacobs used the money he acquired from these transactions to pay off Pete's debt, and Pete was never heard from again.
Over the years, the memory of the grand Harrison House Hotel has faded from people's minds. Its legacy lives on, though, as many pieces of its furniture can still be found in houses in Leeds and other Washington County towns, and its piano is on display at the Daughters of Utah Pioneers museum in St. George. Its foundation is the only thing that remains in Silver Reef.
WCHS-01797 Photo of the ruins of the Harrison House Hotel
WCHS-01798 Photo of the ruins of the Harrison House Hotel
REFERENCESThe Salt Lake Tribune January 4, 1877; November 7, 1878; June 4, 1879; July 6, 1879
The New York Times February 27, 1880
Proctor, Paul Dean; Shirts, Morris A. Silver,
Sinners and Saints: A History of Old Silver Reef, Utah.
Paulmar Inc, 1991
A research report by Elaine Young, PhD.
Jordan, Julius (Notary Public, Silver Reef, Utah).
Bankruptcy statement of Peter Harrison.
Washington County Recorder's Office, January 4, 1888
DUP McQuarrie Memorial Museum alphabetical list of artifacts: